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OK, you caught me. Here's a selfie with winemaker Claudia Benazzoli, who just poured me some of her Valpolicella Ripasso 2013.

OK, you caught me. Here’s a selfie with fourth-generation winemaker Claudia Benazzoli, who just poured me some of her Valpolicella Ripasso 2013.

Benvenuti, amici miei – welcome, my friends!

I hope you enjoyed yesterday’s peek into the little known, yet delicious world of Lugana wines.

As I mentioned then, I got to know these wonderful whites – and their producers – during an industry-only tasting yesterday at San Francisco’s venerable St. Francis Hotel.

 

Beautifully organized tasting, on the 12th floor of the St. Francis in SF.

Beautifully organized tasting, on the 12th floor of the St. Francis in SF.

BTW, my friends, I’m following through on my promise to smuggle you into cool, “insider” wine-and-food events with me!

At this walk-around tasting, hosted by the wine consortia (associations) of  Lugana and Valpolicella – neighboring wine-growing regions in north-central Italy – I was able to talk one-on-one with the dozen or so winery owners and winemakers from both areas.

(I trotted out my trusty (but rusty) college Italian, but all of the winery principals spoke excellent English.)

 

Unlike the white-wine-centric Lugana region, which we explored yesterday, Valpolicella features reds, in several different, widely varying styles. And unlike Lugana, which America has only recently discovered, Valpolicella is already firmly established here. Several of its wines, in fact, enjoy almost a cult status, and can fetch prices well above $100.

 

The lighter style of Valpolicella has much in common with Nouveau Beaujolais, including an early release, soon after harvest.

The lightest style of Valpolicella; fresh, fruity, unaged; has much in common with Nouveau Beaujolais, including an early release, mere weeks after harvest.

The three main grapes grown here are Corvina, Molinara and Rondinella. “Basic” Valpolicella – fresh, fruity and unaged, and the region’s best-known style – compares to a nouveau Beaujolais.

The Valpolicella Classico style, aged for at least a year, is fuller bodied and more complex.

 

My first Amazon of the day – from Ca' dei Frati. Definitely a sign of good things to come!

My first Amarone of the day – from Ca’ dei Frati. Definitely a sign of good things to come!

Next, the Amarone style amps up the weight and concentration of Valpolicella, due mostly to a unique, labor-intensive technique that dates back to the ancient Greeks.

After harvest, carefully chosen bunches of grapes are spread out on straw mats to dry.

 

As they shrivel, and the water evaporates, their sugars, acids and aromatics concentrate. These raisined grapes are pressed, the juice is fermented completely, and the resulting dry wine aged in oak barrels.

 

When I saw "Tinazzi" as this winery family's name, my eyes must have blurred a bit – because it looked like "Tinari," my maiden name...

When I saw “Tinazzi” as this winery family’s name, my eyes must have blurred a bit – because it looked like “Tinari,” my maiden name…

As you may imagine, Amarone is exceptionally rich and complex – and often quite expensive – $50 and (way) up. It’s not surprising that Amarone has acquired a bit of a “cult wine” status.

For a less pricey alternative, though, there’s the Ripasso (twice-passed) style, sometimes referred to as “baby Amarone.”

 

The Ripasso process adds the pomace (grape solids that remain after pressing) from the Amarone production to Valpolicella wine from the same vintage, and the second fermentation this kicks off builds in extra layers of flavor.

 

I enjoyed sipping both the Amarone and Ripasso wines from Scriani.

Amarone and Ripasso wines from Scriani.

Unlike the ancient Amarone method, this technique was only just developed in the 1980s.

Though noticeably lighter than Amarone, Ripasso wines, thanks to the dried grapes that both styles are based on, share a “family resemblance.”

 

And their price tag – often only $15-$25 – is far more approachable.

Wonderful cheeses (tiny mozzarella balla balls in pesto, Humboldt Fog, red wine-soaked cheddar) and other assorted nibbles. to keeper palates fresh throughout the tasting. Delicious!

Wonderful cheeses (tiny mozzarella balls in pesto, Humboldt Fog, red wine-soaked cheddar, great brie) and other assorted nibbles. to keep palates fresh throughout the tasting. Delicious!

Finally, a dessert version of Amarone, called Recioto and made using a similar drying technique, has lower alcohol (because the fermentation is stopped before it’s complete), and retains a generous amount of residual sugar.

It’s dense and inky, with berry-jammy, dark cherry and chocolate flavors – and wonderful on its own or alongside not-too-sweet chocolate desserts.

Come back tomorrow, my friends, and join me for a wonderful dinner at Perbacco – one of San Francisco’s best-loved Italian restaurants – for a freewheeling tasting of Lugana and Valpolicella wines.

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Until then, my friends,
Cheers and happy tastings,
Rosina

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You can also email me at Rosina@DrinkWineWithDinner.com with comments or questions. I look forward to hearing from you!

Cheers once again,
Rosina